Vishal Dikshit is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo
SA v IND (1)
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IND v ENG (W) (1)
Asia Cup [U19] (4)
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Hazare Trophy (4)
Australia 338 (Smith 131, Labuschagne 91, Pucovski 62) and 312 for 6 dec (Green 84, Smith 81, Labuschagne 73) drew with India 244 (Gill 50, Pujara 50, Cummins 4-29) and 334 for 5 (Pant 97, Pujara 77, Sharma 52)
A bruised and battered India line-up couldn't run between the wickets for more than a session. They had a player with a fractured thumb waiting to bat next. They were without their original captain and best batsman. They copped one blow after another off short-pitched bowling, against one of the best bowling attacks. And yet, against all odds, India produced one of the most dramatic displays of patient batting and exemplary fighting spirit to pull off a draw that hardly anyone saw coming when the fifth day started.
Even though Rishabh Pant and Cheteshwar Pujara had set up India's fight early in the day with a century stand that even gave the team a chance of a win initially, the highest praise will be kept for Vihari and Ashwin for the character they showed. The two came together against the second new ball when there were more than 40 overs left in the day, an under-pressure Vihari had already hurt his hamstring, and Ashwin was welcomed by a barrage of short balls that dented his body.
The two made the Australia bowlers toil under sun with a blockathon to draw some frustrations from the hosts towards the end of the day. Nathan Lyon bowled 46 relentless overs, Pat Cummins pounded the pitch throughout the day and Josh Hazlewood found reverse swing, but only to see an unfazed batting pair that defended almost everything that came their way. Unable to run, Vihari finished unbeaten on 23 off 161 after batting for just under three hours, and Ashwin's vigil saw him score 39 runs for his 128-ball stay. Australia will also rue the four catches they dropped on the day, three of them by captain Tim Paine that included two off Pant and one off Vihari at the end of the day, and one by substitute fielder Sean Abbott, off Ashwin.
Given Australia's full-strength attack, it all looked lost for India when Ashwin joined Vihari in the 89th over with more than a session left to survive. But their determined approach wasn't deterred either by the challenging task at hand, the opposition, the injuries, or the chatter around the stumps. Initially Ashwin was at the receiving end of hostile bowling when Cummins started the last session with bouncers, a strategy also used by Hazlewood. Ashwin took blows on his arms, shoulders, chest and abdomen, and was even given out caught behind the second ball after tea before replays showed there was no glove or bat. Ashwin was also lucky his edges fell safe and when he attacked a short ball with a rare pull on 15, Abbott dropped him at square leg. The immediate respite Ashwin received was when Lyon replaced Hazlewood at the other end.
Unable to change strike, both Ashwin and Vihari put a prize on their wicket like never before against accurate bowling towards the stumps that made them play almost everything with as many as five fielders around the bat at times.
Eventually, Cummins was also replaced in the attack but Mitchell Starc couldn't sustain the same kind of pressure and Ashwin started to collect boundaries off Lyon. When 24 overs were remaining, Ashwin had reached 24 with four fours, but Vihari was still on 6 off 82 balls as the duo played out six maidens in a row.
With more than 40 overs under his belt, Lyon started the final hour and now both batsmen started to collect runs a bit more freely. Vihari reached double-figures with two fours in an over off Cummins only to be dropped two overs later off Starc around the wicket by Paine, who leaped to his right and got a glove for the outside edge but couldn't hold on. Five more maidens followed in a row that saw some edges fall short, some land wide, and as everything went India's way, the two teams shook hands with an over to spare.
It was the third-longest sixth-wicket stand for India in the fourth innings, and the first time since 1979 that India had batted for over 132 overs in the fourth innings of a Test.
That Ashwin and Vihari could think of salvaging a draw was down to the 148-run partnership between Pujara and Pant, after Ajinkya Rahane was caught at short leg for Lyon's first wicket of the match. Pant was promoted to No. 5, perhaps to counterattack, and he started it with an assault against Lyon in his scintillating knock of 97.
Pant's domination of the bowlers and the partnership with Pujara was so impactful that Australia had to change their bowlers regularly and Pujara marched on with his natural game while also picking up boundaries. Pant started slow though, crawling to 5 off 33, as India were 102 for 3 in the first session when he joined Pujara. He cashed in after getting a life on 3, when he edged Lyon behind but Paine put him down. Pant, already batting with an injured elbow, also took a few blows on his body from Cummins on the thumb and once on the helmet, before he tore into Lyon.
With mid-on in the circle, he danced down and lofted the spinner for a four and a six off successive deliveries, before collecting two more fours in the next over to overtake Pujara. Lyon changed ends soon but that didn't stop Pant. On 37, he charged down even with a long-on and long-off in place for two consecutive sixes in the V down the ground.
Lyon would have had Pant on 56 too for an outside edge when Pant poked outside off, but Paine put him down again. Pant also unleashed a few punchy drives and pulls off the fast bowlers, and went after Lyon again after lunch with audacious hitting down the ground to race into the nineties. But Lyon pitched one wide of Pant when he stepped out for another heave and the batsman got a leading edge to a diving backward point.
Pujara, meanwhile, reached his 27th Test fifty and crossed 6000 runs in the format, almost replicating Pant with three successive fours off Cummins once the second new ball was taken. He used his feet often against Lyon to either get to the pitch of the ball or cut off the back foot, and saw through Hazlewood's spell of reverse swing carefully until the fast bowler got the new ball and got one to hold its line to rattle Pujara's stumps for 77.
It was still Pujara's longest stay on the pitch in the fourth innings of a Test, and with the kind of role it played in an exhilarating day of Test cricket to save India the match, it was a fitting tribute for Rahul Dravid's 48th birthday.
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